Antarctic Explorers Unit Study

Antarctic Explorers Unit Study

There were many Antarctic Explorers from James Clark Ross to Lewis Clark, but we only covered the three Edwardian explorers. These are Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott and Earnest Shackleton.

Antarctic Explorers: Resources

I bought a selection of picture and factual books which the girls read on their own. As always, I used picture books to introduce a topic and to whet their appetite for all the fun to come!

Roald Amundsen – The Conquest of the South Pole

Scrap book style, all about Amundsen’s expedition to the South Pole.

Tom Crean’s Rabbit

A beautiful picture book which takes its reader on a visual journey through the Terra Nova ship, as Tom Crean searches for a safe place for his rabbit to give birth. Based on the journals of explorer Robert Scott, written on his Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole.

Scott of the Antarctic

Easy to read, with lots of interesting facts about Explorer Robert Scott and his life and ultimate death in the Antarctic

Shackleton’s Expedition

Lovely picture book describing the (mis) adventures of Shackleton on his Endurance expedition, one of the most exciting and heroic leaders of exploration in the early 1900s

Polar Explorers

A good solid factual book with lots of hands on activities.

Robert Scott’s Biography

This is an EXCELLENT book detailing Scott’s race to the South Pole from start to finish. It is written in the present tense, third person. Each chapter is short but exciting enough that you want to read the next and the next. We really enjoyed this as a read aloud, but it would be a great read alone book too.

Explorers’ Sketchbooks

This was a lovely addition to our explorer studies and cover all three Antarctica explorers and the notes they took on their expeditions. Each sketchbook excerpts show just how different the three men were.

Discovering Antarctica:

Discovering Antarctica is a fabulous interactive website with tonnes and tonnes of activities to do. We worked through a stack of them, basically any which particularly appealed to the girls. I can’t recommend this site enough!

Polar Explorer:

Polar Explorer is an excellent resource, and is full of hands on activities linked to engineering (the science of ships), climate change, food chains, exploration. And, again, I really recommend this resource.

I used lots of resources from Twinkl, as well as a leadership study on Shackleton, and a comparison study on Amundsen verses Scott. I also printed, read and discussed Robert Scott’s Last March which were the final few entries in his diary before he died. We also used Cool Antarctica for their excellent explorer recipes

Antarctic Explorers: Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen was the first man to reach the South Pole. Norwegian by birth, Amundsen was an experienced explorer who loved the snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Rather sneakily, he kept his plans for reaching the Antarctic under wraps, so not even Scott knew he was on an expedition there until he had begun his own. The race was on! Unfortunately for the British team, Amundsen beat them to the South Pole in 1911 and erected the Norwegian flag thirty-four days before Scott.

Exploring the Rations the Norwegian and British Teams Took With Them

Unlike Scott and his team, Amundsen not only made it to the South Pole first, he also got himself and his men back home safely. Cherry-Garrard (one of Scott’s men) wrote in ‘The Worst Journey in the World’ surmised that the rations of Scott’s team were inadequate and did not provide enough energy for the men. The girls learnt about the differences between the two teams’ rations and how that may have affected their success.

Rations: Fresh Seal and Penguin Meat

Amundsen and his men ate fresh seal and penguin meat. They had learnt, from their time with the indigenous people in the arctic, that eating an almost exclusively meat diet would help prevent scurvy. Scurvy is a condition caused by a lack of vitamin C. The British team overcooked any fresh meat they ate, which killed off the vitamin C, thus creating a predisposition for scurvy.

Rations: Fuel Supply

Another advantage the Norwegians had over the British team was their knowledge of ‘creeping’. Creeping refers to the evaporation of fuel from the stored fuel cans after the deterioration of the leather washers used to store the fuel in the extreme temperatures. Amundsen and his team used a specially designed bung which hermetically sealed the cans. As it was the fuel which allowed the men to heat food and melt ice for fresh water. This lack of knowledge left Scott’s team vulnerable to dehydration.

Rations: Sledging Biscuits

Both the British and the Norwegian team used the well known ‘sledging’ biscuit, but Scott’s were made of white flour and sodium bicarbonate. White flour and bicarbonate have very few nutrients and little roughage. By contrast, Amundsen made his sledging biscuits using oats and yeast, which contain lots of B vitamins and roughage. The B vitamins kept the Norwegian’s nervous system healthy and the oats gave them roughage to keep their bowels regular. In contrast, the British team struggled with constipation early on in the trip.

All the following recipes are from this wonderful site. I’ve included recipe cards for all the food. On the right is the recipe for Scott’s biscuits and on the right is the added ingredients of Amundsen’s biscuits:

The girls weighed and mixed the ingredients and then baked them in a hot oven for about twenty minutes:

The picture below shows Scott’s sledging biscuits on the right (the lighter and less substantial looking ones) and on the left are Amundsen’s.

Rations: Pemmican

Pemmican is a cake made of dried, crushed beef mixed with beef fat. This was eaten daily and was high in both protein and fat. It was not very tasty, but was a simple way to carry meat rations without it going off. Amundsen added Oatmeal and peas, making it a little more palatable and increased its roughage and fibre content.

This was one of the most disgusting things I have done in the name of homeschooling ever (and I’ve mummified chickens and burnt rabbit droppings in a Mongolian yurt…). I began it the night before by dehydrating lamb pieces in the oven for about four hours on a low temperature. The smell was revolting. Truly revolting. That night I cooled the pieces and wrapped them in foil. This is them dehydrated, along with Scott’s and Amundsen’s recipe:

The girls ground the dried meat into powder using a pestle and mortar, then mixed the fat (and other ingredients) and formed it into a square:

We put the wrapped pemmican into the fridge to harden.

Hoosh is a polar soup/stew made from pemmican and sledging biscuits. The girls grated the sledging biscuits and crumbled up the pemmican block, adding boiled water to the mixture:

Yuck! Unfortunately, none of us had the courage to attempt to eat any of it! I was already having to hold my breath so I didn’t wretch over the revolting smell.

Rations: Dogs

Wisely, Scott used man-power over sled dogs, believing the use of animals to be inhumane. Consequently, the British team used many more calories than their Norwegian counterparts. Amundsen had used man-haul in his expedition to the arctic and never wanted to use it again! Instead, he chose to use sled dogs. His dogs were well trained and he took experienced dog handlers. However, these dogs were always destined to eventually become part of the Amundsen team’s rations. As planned, about half way to the South Pole, at the aptly named Butcher’s Camp, the Norwegians killed enough of their dogs to feed themselves and the remaining dogs for the rest of the journey.

Antarctic Explorers: Robert Falcon Scott

Not an explorer by nature, Robert Falcon Scott was a British Navy officer who was chosen by the Royal Geographic Society to lead the British expedition of 1901. This was a successful expedition, reaching further south than any other team who had gone before. In 1911, Scott took a large team of men, horses and dogs (and motorised sledges) to attempt to reach the South Pole. A feat never before achieved, Scott was racing against Amundsen to get there first.

Scott was troubled by issues from the onset. First, the sledges broke down. Next, the horses struggled and were later killed. Lastly, the dogs were sent home. Only five men made it to the Pole but, alas, Amundsen had pipped him to the post by just 34 days. Desolate, the team slowly made their way home, losing toes, fingers, a nose and sight to frost bite and the blinding sun. Unfortunately, two men died along the way, with the final three dying just 11 miles from their last depo. Scott kept meticulous diaries up until the last possible moment, when he knew all was lost and that death was near. His wife was knighted in his honour for his bravery.


Explorers at the Poles faced many months surrounded by monotonous white snow, no contact with the outside world and much time on their hands. It was important that the leaders found ways to keep their men busy, especially during the more trying times. Shackleton liked to encourage his men to play football, whilst Scott brought along a gramophone to play music and dance to. Another tradition, borne in the North Pole and continued down South, was the writing of a newspaper. As we read Scott’s biography, the girls created a simple newspaper:

The first ever Antarctic Midwinter Party was held by Robert Scott in 1911. And it has been held annually ever since to welcome in the longer summer days:

We held our very own Midwinter Party, trying to replicate as much as possible the one held by Scott in 1911. To read more click on the link below which will take you to the blog post I’ve written about the night:

Our Own Antarctic Midwinter Party

For now, though, I’ll leave you with some of the photos from the night:

The best part, the many, many toasts:

Antarctic Explorers: Earnest Shackleton

Earnest Shackleton accompanied Robert Scott on his British National Antarctic Expedition in 1901. He led his own Nimrod expedition in 1908 and reached the furthest South of any explorer in history, just 112 miles from the South Pole. In 1914, he led the Endurance expedition to try to be the first man to walk across the diameter of the Antarctic. Unfortunately, very early on, his ship The Endurance got stuck in the ice, and eventually broke in two. He and his men abandoned the expedition and fought to find their way home. For Shackleton, all he cared about was getting his men to safety, alive and as well as possible. His story is one of bravery and excellent leadership.


We did a leadership study on Shackleton. We learnt that he was incredibly well thought of by his men. He was a great leader, putting his men’s comfort and lives before his own. He never gave up, regardless of how difficult the circumstances were. Mentally strong, he made every effort to maintain the mental and physical health of his men. One of the biggest lessons we learnt was his attitude of focusing only on the things he had control over, instead of wasting precious time, energy and emotion over the things he could not control.

These were flat versions of the sledging biscuits. At least, they had the same ingredients as the Scott version. But I must say, they were much more enjoyable to eat:

We spent an afternoon learning about Shackleton, completing a comprehension exercise and writing his diary about his ‘Nimrod’ expedition:

The last activity was for the girls to mark the route each explorer took:

The girls had such a great time learning about the feats of these three courageous men. They read lots of books, they cooked lots of revolting food and they wrote news papers and diaries.

All round, an excellent unit study!

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